Testing. Short story.

Nancy could feel it burning through her veins, that itchy, white-hot heat. She clenched her hands, willing herself not to scratch. The first time it had caught her unawares and she was covered in scratches for days afterwards. It would be over soon, she just had to concentrate on breathing and waiting for it to subside. The itching started to die down as her joints started to throb, Nancy let out a sigh of relief as the itching finally disappeared. She could deal with the aching joints for a day or two before they returned to normal. She flexed her hands, the knuckles felt like they were swollen and slow to move, but they looked fine. The doctor smiled at her, “Has the itching passed?”
“Yeah, we’re at the achy joint stage now.”
“And otherwise you feel fine?”
“Yeah, no complaints.”
“Anything out of the ordinary since the last shots?”
“As I said before no, nothing strange. The aches go away in a day or two and I feel normal again.”
The doctor raised an eyebrow, “Well, normal for me anyway.” Nancy smiled, “it’s my new normal now.”
“Good, you have our number for emergencies?”
“Yep, still have it.”
“I know, but I just want to make sure. Better to be prepared and all that.”
He handed her an envelope, “And here is your payment, same time and day next week?”
“Yeah, that suits just fine.”
“Oh, do you need any more of the tracker forms?”
“No, I have enough to last me for the next few years I think.”
“Good, well, then I’ll see you next week. Take it easy until your joints feel better.”
Nancy stood and shrugged on her coat, “I will, don’t worry.”
“Have a nice day.”
“You too.”

Nancy left the doctor’s office, purse slung over one shoulder. The waiting room was empty as she passed through, it always was. She had yet to see another patient in the building, but she knew there were others. They had told her the first time she had come here, there were over a thousand patients in the project, more than half were in the end stages now. Or at least that’s what the doctors had told her. Pretty safe, some side effects blah blah. Nancy didn’t really care about that, she cared about the money. She stopped at the bathroom and went inside, there she quickly counted out the wad of cash in the envelope. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the doctor, it was just that if there were any problems she would prefer to sort them out sooner rather than later. But it was all there, all four thousand. She slipped the envelope into her purse and left the bathroom.

Outside she walked calmly to her car, it was amazing how quickly she had become accustomed to carrying around large chunks of cash. The first time she had left she had done so with hunched shoulders, looking around furtively for anyone who might be lurking. She got into her car and turned on the heating full blast, it wasn’t a cold day, it was actually quite pleasant, but the heat would help with the aching, it always did.

Nancy let herself into her apartment, which was a definite improvement over the last one. She had jumped at the chance to upgrade once she signed on with the testing, after all she had a steady income now, why shouldn’t she enjoy it? She dumped her bag on the kitchen table and went to the sitting room, she had already set it up to have everything she’d need. A blanket and pillows to help prop her up, a few heat pads, snacks, painkillers and a bottle of water. Nancy turned on the TV and popped a few of the painkillers into her mouth, followed by a swig from the bottle of water.

Nancy was startled from her doze by a sharp pain in her wrist, she gently massaged it, trying to figure out if she had shifted or bumped it when it came again. She gasped at the intensity of it. Normally the ache was dull and throbbing. She stood from the couch, wincing as another sharp pain passed through her hips. She went to the kitchen and picked up her phone, it took her a few seconds to dial, her fingers were slow to respond. The phone rung for what seemed like hours before someone finally picked up, “Hello?”
“Uh hi, is this the Johnston Medical Centre?”
“Yes, it is.”
“I’m looking for a Dr. Jackson? I’m one of his patients.”
“Could you please give me your patient ID number?”
“Yeah it’s” Nancy looked at the letter she had been given the first day “459829046”

“One moment.”
Nancy waited, trying to ignore the growing pain, finally, “Hello? Nancy?”
“Yes, I’m here, I’m having some really bad pain in all my joints.”
“What kind of pain?”
“It’s sharp, kind of stabbing, not achy and throbbing like before.”
“Ok, when did the pain get worse?”
“Not long, maybe five minutes?”
“Is it getting better or worse or staying the same?”
“Staying the same.”
The doctor sighed, “Ok, good. That’s good. Everything should be fine, just keep monitoring it. If the pain gets worse I want you to ring me straight away on my direct line.”
Nancy took down his number, “Will I be ok?”
“Yes, you should be. We had a problem before with these kind of pains. As long as they don’t get worse you’ll be fine.”
“How much worse was it? For the others?”
“I’m not going to lie. It was bad.”
“Were they ok? Afterwards?”
“I’m sorry Nancy I’ve to go, just keep monitoring the pain and take a few painkillers. If it gets worse call me, try to get some sleep too, that should help.” The doctor hung up the phone, Nancy put the phone down on the counter. Her heart was beating quickly, she didn’t like how he had sidestepped her last question. Another pain shot through her hands, she took a breath and went back to the couch, moving slowly.

When she woke the next morning the pain was gone, no more dull ache, no more sharp, stabbing pains. She moved carefully at first, afraid of setting anything off. As she ate breakfast she considered dropping out of the project. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all. Sure it paid well, but there was no guarantee that she would continue to be fine, and who knew what this stuff was doing to her body? What would it do in ten or twenty years? Nancy sighed and took a sip of her coffee, there was no point in worrying about it. She was stuck. She had signed the contract and the had explained it all, she was in it until the end now, unless she had some kind of dangerous reaction. Still, the money was good and they did tell her that at the end of it, if it worked, it would improve her life immeasurably, already she was feeling stronger and things seemed to come to her more easily. Surely she could deal with a little pain for only a few more months.

About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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3 Responses to Testing. Short story.

  1. Macxermillio says:

    Awesome story. Sparked a lovely conversation between me and my brother about potential conflict of interest, the contracts, the pros and cons and so forth.
    I’m glad. Thanks for this.

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